TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – That new political energy pulsating across the nation – from the Paciﬁc Northwest to Georgia – and perpetually in Washington. D.C. – has spurred increased hope in Florida.
Particularly among Democrats in Florida.
Florida is where the former occupant of the White House is hiding out after what many Florida Democrats consider his obvious coup attempt and treason last Nov. 6.
It’s where his Town of Palm Beach neighbors are trying to oust him from Mar-a-Lago – and he is trying to claim employee status in order to maintain residency – even as the Palm Beach Daily News reports residents of the Trump Plaza twin towers, across the Intracoastal in West Palm Beach, just voted overwhelmingly to remove all association with his name.
Florida also is where political opponents of the current occupant of the state house are hoping, as Politico.com reports, that the qualities “that keep him humming with the GOP base prove to be weak points in his political armor even as Florida Democrats keep falling short at the ballot box and haven’t won a gubernatorial race since 1994.”
Those same Democrats that Politico describes as desperate for a win – but in disarray, divided over direction and facing ﬁnancial problems – also would love to work some Georgia jiu-juitsu on Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, the latter the former governor.
But ﬁrst there’s the 2021 Florida State Legislative Session, scheduled to convene March 2 with lawmakers who took ofﬁce following the 2020 elections.
The NAACP Florida State Conference has formalized its legislative agenda for the coming session, focusing on COVID19 and its impact on the Black community and beyond. NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze called the agenda bold and strong.
“With COVID-19 as an ongoing reminder of the pain in our communities, I call on the governor and Department of Health to expand the number of distribution sites in communities of color and speciﬁcally the Black community,” she said. “The current rollout is inadequate and putting our lives at risk in the Black community.”
The NAACP priorities extend beyond the pandemic. Their agenda chases economic opportunity, civic engagement, environmental and climate justice, health care, criminal and juvenile justice, and education. Backed bills include creating the Ofﬁce of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the governor’s ofﬁce, per a bill by state Sen. Lori Berman.
The group is also opposing HB 1, a priority for the governor and Republican leaders. That proposal, which Nweze called a “racist anti-protest bill,” purportedly aims to crack down on violent protests and protect law enforcement ofﬁcials. Critics call it an attempt to discourage peaceful demonstrations.
The group is pushing for recognition of May 20 as the appropriate “Juneteenth” date in Florida, the day Florida surrendered to the Union during the Civil War.
As the session gears up, so too have members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus (FLBC), who, with support from the Florida House and Senate Democratic Caucuses, have released a comprehensive police reform legislative package.
The FLBC is a nonpartisan organization established in 1964 upon the arrival of Rep. Joe Lang Kershaw, the ﬁrst Black legislator to serve in Florida since the Reconstruction Era. Today, the FLBC (flblackcaucus.com) consists of 27 members who serve in the state Senate and House of Representatives.
“The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is interested in ensuring the safety, wellbeing and general welfare of all Florida communities,” said state Sen. Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach). “It is our hope that the proposed legislation will influence better practices that promote accountability, transparency and community relationships which will ultimately result in better community outcomes between law enforcement and the communities that they serve.”
The ofﬁcials say the package addresses a number of operational and civil issues that would beneﬁt law enforcement agencies and civilians alike by strengthening transparency and accountability within the system. They emphasized their intent to work with lawmakers on both sides of the isle to approach the reforms in a sensible, evidence-driven and collaborative manner.
Already endangered in the GOPcontrolled Tallahassee, however, the caucus’ policing proposals include, but are not limited to:
Establishing Uniform Law Enforcement Agency Standards; Senate Bill 942 & House Bill 647 by Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis.
Reforming Qualiﬁed Immunity; SB 670 & HB 261 by Sen. Shevrin Jones and Rep. Michele Rayner. “Qualiﬁed immunity creates a culture of permissive use of force by police, creates near-zero accountability for police misconduct, lowers community trust in police, and invites civil unrest,” said Jones (D-Miami Gardens).
Limiting the Acquisition of Certain Military Equipment; SB 878 & HB 187 by Sen. Perry E. Thurston, Jr. and Rep. Travaris McCurdy/Rep. Angie Nixon.
Collecting Information Regarding Use of Force Incidents; SB 454 & HB 577 by Sen. Randolph Bracy & Rep. Anika Omphroy. “As the Ranking Democratic Member on the Civil Just Subcommittee, I came across the claims bill of Dontrell Stevens who was paralyzed from the waist down due to excessive use of force at the age of 19,” said Omphroy (D-Sunrise). “We all witnessed the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. last year. Recently, a video surfaced of an Osceola County deputy slamming a student down and knocking her unconscious. This tracking system needs to be codiﬁed into law in the state of Florida. With this data, we will be able to see the issues that must be resolved to balance public safety and ensure that all Floridians are treated the same under the law.”
Mandating Universal Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies; HB 299 by Rep. Felicia Robinson. “Accreditation is nothing new for large agencies,” said Robinson (D-Miami Gardens). “Other state agencies go through an accreditation as it allows for accountability and adds a layer of transparency. I see this as a good move for both the agencies and the people of Florida.”
Establishing a Minimum Age of Arrest; HB 303 by Rep. Patricia H. Williams. “You’re supposed to protect us, but who’s going to protect us from you,” said Williams (D-Fort Lauderdale). “Correctional facilities have now become collection facilities. When it comes to sentencing, a person’s income should not determine their outcome.”
Reforming of Police Bill of Rights; HB 6057 by Rep. Omari Hardy. “We say that our government is built on a system of checks and balances, but the Police Bill of Rights turns that idea upside down,” said Hardy (D-Palm Beach). “Rather than balancing the awesome powers of the police with equally awesome mechanisms of oversight, the Police Bill of Rights codiﬁes into law, a system of loopholes and technicalities that makes it nearly impossible to hold bad ofﬁcers accountable. It rigs the law in favor of these bad ofﬁcers. That’s why we have to repeal it.”
Repealing Stand Your Ground; HB 6035 by Rep. Yvonne Hinson. “To this day, the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman haunts the African American community, said Hinson (DGainesville). “We have seen throughout history various laws and legal principles enacted to preserve the status quo of white supremacy. Stand Your Ground is no different. It’s a long past time for Florida to go in a new direction.”
SB 442 & HB 739 ﬁled by Sen. Randolph Bracy and Rep. Kristen Arrington (D-Osceola); Raises the rate of compensation for jurors and prohibits the use of peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors in criminal jury trials.
SB 868 & HB 521 by Sen. Powell & Rep. Christopher Benjamin (D-Miami); Restricts the use of no-knock search warrants.
SB 452 & HB 569 by Sen. Bracy and Rep. Kevin Chambliss (D-Miami); Establishes uniform standards for body and dashboard cameras.
SB 480 & HB 277 by Sen. Bracy and Rep. Geraldine Thompson (DOrlando); Creates a police misconduct registry that tracks the history of law enforcement ofﬁcers.
HB 479 by Rep. Ramon Alexander (DTallahassee); Reforms compensation for victims of excessive use of force by law enforcement ofﬁcers.
UNEMPLOYMENT FIASCO Another advocate, Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Marcus L. Dixon is calling on the governor and Republican controlled Legislature to ﬁx the state’s broken unemployment system.
TAKING THE LEAD
Meanwhile, a new effort seeks to have more Black leaders organized and educated not only on the same issues, but also on how to advocate and mobilize their communities to have a real impact on legislative efforts.
The Equal Ground Education Fund (EGEF), a nonpartisan, nonproﬁt focused on building Black political power in Florida, is launching a two-day leadership development training starting next week called Take the Lead.
Organizers say the thing that makes the training particularly important during this moment is their goal of educating more Black Floridians on how to push back against legislators who write laws that disproportionately impact them. The group speciﬁcally cited HB 1, the governor’s newly proposed Anti-Protest Bill that would punish Black people for participation in peaceful demonstrations.
Day 1, “Legislative 101,” is set for Tuesday, Feb. 16 from 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. Day 2: “What’s next?” – from 2021 priorities to virtual organizing to next steps and actions – is set for Thursday, Feb. 18 from 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.